El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019)

“Give up Pinkman.”

Television series don’t get much better than Breaking Bad. It is, from start to finish, one of the very best of its kind. Few false notes can be found, which is why it’s so confusing that this epilogue should posthumously pop up out of the blue, finding a home online roughly 6 years past the original expiration date. Even by definition of its own title, El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie lives in the great shadow of exemplary storytelling far surpassing its own limited narrative, making for an admirable companion piece in the swamp of streaming service options. It’s a serviceable movie for fans only.

Picking up and filling in the ambiguous lines of the epic series finale, El Camino writes this postscript love letter to Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) with its heart on its sleeve. We last saw Jesse fleeing the Nazi compound in the titular car, not offering a nice goodbye to the dying Walter White (Bryan Cranston), with Jesse’s fate ultimately left up to us. At least until now, that is. With fantastic use of flashback devices early on, El Camino bounces back and forth between the escaped Jesse as he asks for help from his blood brothers Skinny Pete (Charles Baker) and Badger (Matt Jones), as well as his brutal imprisonment at the hands of soulless individuals. Jesse bawls during his escape, dirt rolls off his body in the shower, his face is erratically scarred. He’s also on the run from the law, and unlike the abused animal that he is, Jesse has no promise of respite in a shelter. Back to the streets he crawls.

While the marketing unforgivably oversold the involvement of Skinny Pete & Badger, who appear and evaporate into the plot as quickly as they entered, El Camino rightfully places its focus on Jesse. And for the first two-thirds or so, the movie takes a new route on the same information highway we’ve already traveled, showing the indoctrinated things that are familiar as well as introducing us to new stops along the way. This is when El Camino actually feels like the kind of film you’d see in the cinema and not from the comfort of your couch; it’s a journey through darkness with a character we hope manages to find the light, and the technical components behind the camera are practically faultless. Every camera angle and every story point defy crowdfunded expectations, resulting in a movie that’s both extremely polished yet still rough around the edges.

Having said that, I’m still not quite sure why Breaking Bad showrunner Vince Gilligan felt it necessary to shape El Camino into a film, unless Netflix happened to be begging him for this product. It doesn’t seem like anybody else was either. And with the original length rumored to teeter past 3 hours, I almost would have preferred a longer, half hour episodic look into the exile and the escape of the easily compromised existence of Jesse Pinkman. Maybe that’d have given more space for Badger & Skinny Pete to right their own ships on screen. It’d have allowed more time spent with the deeply unsettling sociopath Todd (Jesse Plemons), and would have gifted the stilted final act a chance to finally define its moral code. Sitting through Vince Gilligan’s feature film debut is like the aftermath ensuing a pitch-perfect concert, where the band rolls back out for an uncalled and unnecessary encore. He serves up an excellent extra dessert that’s compliments of the chef, but after a near perfect service some years back, perhaps it’s all a little too much. Worth devouring? Yes. Essential? Not so much.

“Please come forward.”

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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